Me and my Epilepsy

First a brief history of how and when in life my epilepsy started. At the age of about 16 years, I began to experience absence seizures. With these I would get feelings of déjà vu that lasted for a few seconds and I would be out of touch with my surroundings.

I visited a neurologist at 18 years old and an epileptogenic focus was found, using EEG, in the right temporal lobe. I started on anti-convulsive medication straight away.

It was not until I was 20 years old that I experienced my first tonic-clonic seizure. This was quite possibly brought on by the stress of my mother's tragic death, as that had occurred less than one week previously. My level and combination of drugs was increased and I had reasonable control of my major seizures. This allowed me to continue driving until the mid 1990's.

Perhaps the greatest benefit for me is to have always been able to work. I was born on a farm and when I left school I took on this role as farmer. I believe it is very important for everyone to have a
suitable job and feel they are contributing to society. This is particularly true for people with disability a as it helps keep your mind off your problem and stops you getting anxious about it.

Transport

When I had to give up driving, I was relying on others for lifts or left isolated. Thus I began to use a bike to get around. As I wrote in an article for Epilepsy News in this year's Spring issue, an electric bike has been a very good investment for me. This is a normal bike in that you pedal it to get most of your mobility. However, within the framework is a rechargeable battery that connects to a small electric motor. Whenever your speed is low due to a steep hill, or just to get you going from a standing start, the motor cuts in automatically and helps you along. It also cuts out automatically when your speed is back up to 25 kph. For this reason, it is no more dangerous than an ordinary pedal bike with no high speeds and perfectly legal for someone with epilepsy.

[See Issue 45 of Epilepsy News for more information].

For longer journeys I hitch-hike and although this is not suitable or indeed advisable for everyone, for me it helps get me to Dublin which is about 40 miles away. To get to Dublin, I go down to the slip road from Arklow that leads on to the N11 north. I stand there with my sign saying 'Dublin Please' and usually within 5 minutes a car pulls in and offers me a lift. Very often they are people who know me and will often go out of their way to drop me where I want to go in Dublin. To get home from Dublin, I take the DART train out to Shankhill, walk to the N11 near Loughlistown Hospital and stand close to a roundabout point where traffic is slow. With the sign turned around displaying 'Arklow Please', I hold out my thumb. It is slightly more difficult heading home but usually I get a lift within 10 minutes.

I always travel up when people from Arklow are heading to Dublin in the morning and come back in late afternoon as they head home. The greatest thing I find about hitching is that you only meet nice people. They would not bother to stop if they were not kind sensitive people, so it restores my faith in humanity. Nevertheless, in today's world it is not something I would advocate for everyone.

[Editor's Note: As Peter points out, hitch-hiking always entails certain risks and you should bear these in mind if considering taking a lift from a stranger. Peter is a strong, fit 6' 3" man and not all of us would be able to look after ourselves as well as him!]

Reducing Stress

I strongly believe, as do many others who specialise in epilepsy, that stress is a major contributory factor to attacks. Being able to relax and stay stress free is thus very helpful. I have found recently that if I feel myself getting stressed and in danger of a major seizure, there is a way that can help. I turn my attention to anything that is not man-made i.e. something from nature. This can be plants or animals on the farm, or simply a river, clouds or distant trees if you are not in the country. A psychologist would tell anyone with any stress problems to try and go for a walk in the park occasionally, so it ties in well with their philosophy on life. Nature gives us good 'vibes' that help us to relax.

All the best for the future.